April Fools' Day Marketing Strategies That Ended in Disaster

Blog Post
April 01, 2020

Three April Fools' Jokes That Made Us Laugh
(Because They Ended in Disaster)

Companies engaging in April Fools’ horseplay is, more often than not, cringeworthy—like your weird uncle telling racy jokes at Thanksgiving level of cringe. Sometimes these pranks manage to cross the cringe barrier only to get into so bad it’s good territory. Like the examples below. These April Fools’ pranks are hilarious not because they were done with style, but because they ended up in disaster. Enjoy!


1. Gmail Mic Drop put whole conversations on mute

Gmail Mic Drop

You’d think that a company that loves April Fools’ pranks as much as Google would know better. Seriously, they’ve been doing this sort of thing for two decades now and it’s noteworthy enough that Wikipedia put together
a yearly list. Still, even the best get it wrong sometimes, and that’s precisely what happened in 2016 when Gmail introduced Mic Drop.


The prank
Hate it when someone adds you to an email conversation that turns into a never-ending thread that you couldn’t care less about? You could use the built-in Mute feature to silence all those unwanted emails, but that wasn’t nearly cool enough for Gmail’s development team. So for April Fools’ 2016 they introduced Mic Drop, which would mute the conversation and insert a mic drop animation into your outgoing response. It was like telling the world, I care so little about this convo that I’m going to let a minion tell you off.


What went wrong

Because the Send + Mic Drop button was right next to the regular Send button, some Gmail users clicked it by accident, meaning they never heard back from the people they were emailing. On top of that, there was a bug that would mute your emails even if you hit the standard Send button: if you pressed Send + Mic Drop without including any recipients, you’d get an error message; if you’d then add recipients and click the standard Send button, your email would go out with a Mic Drop anyway.

The backlash was so quick that Google had to turn off the feature and issue an apology mere hours after launch. Unfortunately, that wasn’t quick enough for the poor writer who posted this message on Gmail’s help forum:

Thanks to Mic Drop I just lost my job. I am a writer and had a deadline to meet. I sent my articles to my boss and never heard back from her. I inadvertently sent the email using the "Mic Drop" send button. There were corrections that needed to be made on my articles and I never received her replies. My boss took offense to the Mic Drop animation and assumed that I didn't reply to her because I thought her input was petty (hence the Mic Drop). I just woke up to a very angry voicemail from her which is how I found out about this "hilarious" prank.

At least people kept their complaining online and did not pursue legal action—which is not something I can say about the next entry on this list.


2. Hooters rewarded hard work with a toy Yoda



April Fools’ pranks and puns go together like peanut butter and jelly in most cases. But when you use the prank to make a promise and then you use the pun to get out of that promise, they go together like a brick and a glass house—a combo that will never end well in any version of the multiverse.


The prank

Back in 2001, Hooters decided to run a contest and promised a brand new Toyota to the server who sold the most beer. Things seemed pretty clear-cut: sell the most beer and you get a car. What’s there to misunderstand?


What went wrong

The server who won the contest, Jodee, found out that Hooters never wanted to give away a free car. When she went to claim her prize, instead of a Toyota she got a toy Yoda—aren’t puns fun and a cool way of getting out of the promise you made to your hardest working employees? That might be considered funny on the Earth GC8324 version of the multiverse, but on this Earth it’s simply considered a bad move—made even worse by the fact that Jodee’s manager repeatedly said the prize was a real Toyota car and that the contest was not a stupid prank.

In a response that came as surprise only to the people at Hooters, Jodee got a lawyer and sued her employer. The suit was settled a year later, and I assume that Jodee got much more than a toy Yoda out of this.

3. Taco Bell bought the Liberty Bell



When you’re a big-name company and you pull an April Fools’ joke, you want people to be fooled—but at the same time you want them to understand that it’s a joke. If they don’t get that, they might get angry; and when that happens, then they’re going to make sure you know about it. Didn’t this list make that crystal clear by now?


The prank

Back in 1996, Taco Bell rolled out a full-page press release in the Washington Post, New York Times, USA Today and three other major newspapers. In it they proudly proclaimed that they bought one of America’s most historic symbols: the Liberty Bell.

In an effort to help the national debt, Taco Bell is pleased to announce that we have agreed to purchase the Liberty Bell, one of our country's most historic treasures, said the press release. It will now be called the "Taco Liberty Bell" and will still be accessible to the American public for viewing. While some may find this controversial, we hope our move will prompt other corporations to take similar action to do their part to reduce the country's debt.


What went wrong

The federal government couldn’t possibly sell the Liberty Bell for the very simple reason that it doesn’t own it, the City of Philadelphia does—and they’re not about to sell it anytime soon. To anyone who knew this fact, Taco Bell’s press release was obviously an April Fools’ prank. (Also, to anyone who bothered to check the date on the press release.)

But people aren’t going to let a simple thing like facts get in the way of their anger, so they picked up their phones and called Taco Bell and the National Park Service in Philadelphia to express their outrage. Thousands of calls poured in, prompting Taco Bell to issue another press release and reassure the public that it was all an April Fool’s prank. They also pledged $50K to the upkeep of the Liberty Bell, which might seem like a lot of money until you find out that this marketing strategy generated about $25 million worth of free publicity at the time—in today’s money that figure would be closer to $41 million. It’s because of this that Taco Bell’s April Fool’s prank is considered one of the most successful marketing stunts of all time.

April Fools’ Day is a centuries-old tradition that gives businesses of all sizes the chance to try out some playful marketing strategies. And to be honest, we definitely need something to laugh about right now. 
No matter how serious or silly you want to go, Harte Hanks has the resources and expertise to come up with a winning campaign that will entertain your customers and put a smile on everyone’s faces.